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<p>I'm a big fan of Marcus Brigstocke's comedy, and opened the book expecting it to be funny - but I didn't expect his exploration of faith to be as respectful and interesting as it was. He opens by discussing a friend of his named James, who had died young, of heart problems. </p> </br><p>This prompted a crisis in faith, and he decided to explore the major religions in search of answers. He doesn't pull punches - atheists are called on their smugness, christians on their self entitlement, muslims on their misogyny. He talks about the horrible paradox of his atheism; he isn't any happier than people with faith, and almost wishes there was a god, but he can't find any representation of a higher power that he thinks is real.<p> He also discusses the complications of being a recovering addict and explains how groups for addicts are scrupulous about separating religious practice from that faith in a 'higher power'. <br>
It's also brilliantly, laugh out loud funny. He outlines his problems with Dawkins (shared by many atheists) and shares anecdotes ranging from a racist priest to he and James (equally sober due to his heart condition) being thrown out of a club because the bouncer was convinced they were high. He explores the difficulties in being an atheist friend, and parent; celebrating the brilliance of his child, and furious that someone told his little boy that not worshipping god meant you would burn in hell for all eternity. He finishes by pondering on the concept of an afterlife, and hoping that such a thing is possible.
It's a wonderful, surprisingly sensitive book, and well worth a read.
I've long been a fan of Marcus Brigstocke, finding his engaging delivery and intelligent material a breath of fresh air compared with his peers who seem currently to churn out endless clichéd observations on everyday life. "God Collar" is based on Brigstocke's Edinburgh Festival show that I wasn't able to get to so I was especially interested in reading this book.
The premise of "God Collar" is that Brigstocke wants to challenge his own atheism; he wants to believe in God but can't find any compelling intellectual reasons so to do. He calls this void in his life a "God-shaped hole". The idea was spurred on by the premature death of his best friend, a tragedy that made Brigstocke look more closely at his relationship (or not) with God. Unlike many other comics, Brigstocke doesn't mercilessly lampoon those who do believe and the respective holy books of those faiths; atheists attract as much scathing attention as believers and there does appear to be, at least a little, grudging respect for those who do profess to believe and therein lies one of the fundamental flaws in the project.
The very term "faith" demonstrates that we don't have any proof that what we (or those that do believe) actually believe in is based on concrete evidence. We don't have faith in science: we believe in certain scientific facts because they've been proven to be true. By its very definition faith is having a trust in something we haven't seen any proof of so Brigstocke's argument really falls flat from the outset. In looking for evidence of something that believers don't feel compelled to seek, Brigstocke here is really preaching to the unconverted.
That said the book is full of Brigstocke's trademark humour and is an entertaining if not really intellectually stimulating read. Brigstocke has a tendency to drift off into stand up style asides and as a result large chunks of this book read like a transcript of a live routine. The trouble is that Brigstocke is at his funniest when darting off into rants about things like the Royal Mail but here these comic interludes distract from the main event and it takes forever for Brigstocke to get to the meat of whatever point he's trying to make at the time; at times he makes Eddie Izzard look like someone who sticks to the point. As eloquent as Brigstocke frequently is, some passages are too heavy, not because the subject matters demands it, but because of excessive wordiness and ultimately poor editing; in fact, at the end of one rather cumbersome chapter Brigstocke remarks "That last tirade seems reasonably likely to have thinned my readership down to you elite few who are not afraid of a touch of light ribbing" to which I can only wonder why it was included.
The fact that Brigstocke has imbued this work with his trademark comedic style does diminish his arguments to varying degrees. He wants to answer thinkers like Richard Dawkins but his critique of that author's "The God Delusion" is summarised by an accusation of "smugness" - hardly an incisive analysis. This is a trait that continues through the book and it left me wondering why anyone would bother going to the bother of doing all that research only to make a half-hearted attempt to discuss the ideas raised.
"God Collar" would have been a much better read had it simply been an account of Brigstocke's reaction to his friend's early death. This element of the book is rather moving and sensitively written but somewhat lost in the confusion of jumbled ideas, unnecessary digressions and poorly referenced arguments. Sadly Marcus Brigstocke has squandered the chance to instigate a meaningful debate and the result is a mish mash of comic rants and half considered theories. Disappointing indeed.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
Thanks to Bantam Press for providing a review copy.